Exclusion Zone

“What took you so long?” I couldn’t see her face underneath her helmet, but I assumed a wry smirk managed to find its place there as she said it.

“Someone had to deal with the swarm of angry gorillas you stirred up passing through the exclusion zone,” I muttered over the comm-channel. All that came through in response was laughter. I checked the read out on my rifle as she turned to scan the red dunes ahead of us. Six rounds left in my current magazine- two trigger pulls. I debated swapping magazines. My nano-bots might be able to synthesize the nearly spent magazine to full by the time I needed it.

My companion leaped forward down the dune we were standing on before I could come to a decision. A second or two later I spotted the object that spurred this most recent advance. A small bunker lay partially obscured by sand dunes that had built up around it. I noted that the building certainly wasn’t supposed to be there, but hell, we were probably the first people to cross through the exclusion zone to this portion of Mars in a long time. My erstwhile associate had to be the only person crazy enough to attempt it, and it dawned on me that I was the only person stupid enough to join her in the endeavor.

She already set her omni-tool to work decrypting the alien locking mechanism by the time I caught up with her. Crazy as she may be, she perfected the art of efficiency. I took the opportunity of the brief delay to swap in a full magazine and then brushed some of the dust that had been kicked up in my earlier skirmish off the sleeves of my robe. Note to self, I thought, when a mercenary at a dive bar asks you if your an actual space wizard, say no. The whirs and beeps of the omni-tool sounded through my helmet as it struggled. Addendum: When propositioned with an excursion to Mars to see what’s beyond the exclusion zone, don’t let curiosity get the better of you.

A hiss of air escaped as the mechanisms holding the door shut began their automated opening sequence and the mercenary stowed her omni-tool back in her belt. Taking the point position, she entered what I now ascertained to be a bunker.

“If we’re lucky, it’ll be abandoned,” I said.

“If we’re lucky, there will be a whole legion in here,” she rejoined. She and I certainly held very different views of what constituted luck. I adjusted my grip on my rifle so that I could use the MAUL attached to it in the close quarters of the hallway we just entered. So far it looked like my definition of luck would be the one that would hold. Our footsteps echoed through the hallway as we approached our only option for advance. It reminded me of the one time I’d been to my old school during the summer. The silence hung like spider webs, and when broken by the sound of your foot steps, produced the same disconcerting effect of having a string of silk cling to your arm or face.

She stowed her firearm and brought out the omni-tool again, setting it to work on the newest obstacle we encountered. I turned around and covered the entrance, shifting my grip once again. An ambush of multiple half ton aliens was the last thing I wanted surprising me today. My gut churned with anxiety. I pictured the seconds slipping by preciously, slowly, like the last sands in the top bulb of an hour glass. Finally the door chimed and groaned open.

Neither of us expected what greeted us beyond this final door. A control room terminated our advance. Banks of computers lined up like some photograph from before the discovery. The room could have been a picture from an old history book, right down to the two bodies shrunken up in their control chairs. My mercenary friend was silent.

“This shouldn’t be here.” I stated over the comms and earned a grunt in response. I set my helmets feed to record as I walked around the room narrating what I saw.

“Bunker terminates into a single control room. Multiple cathode ray displays and banks of monitoring equipment. Single maker in the corner. Possible source for food. No sign of bunks. All sources indicate to other permanent living arrangements within easy traveling distance. Two bodies in chairs before the control panels. Wearing uniforms. Appear to have UEA patches on the sleeves. Hard to tell with the deterioration. Bodies exhibit signs of desiccation due to the climate.” I attempted flipping some of the switches on the control bank at this point. “Power to the machinery cut off. No self evident signs of purpose or function. Row of lockers-” I cut off at this point and my companion tensed like an animal stalking prey. That simple movement of her body confirmed that the clanking I had just heard was not a figment of my imagination. We had company.


Apropos of: This Prompt

-Crouse

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